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Azden

The Azden brand goes along with Rode and Sennheiser, but they seem to have filled a gap that has been left open for awhile by the mainstream brands.  Juiced Link and Beachtek have both produced small sound mixers, that leave some to be desired, but Azden has housed their own in a more sophisticated, small box that operates in the same fashion, but gives the user more control over their levels, as well as includes a jack for headphones in addition to the dual XLR inputs, and the L and R channel level controls. Azden also covers a FMX 42/42a 4-channel portable mixer, which offers 4 XLR inputs and 2 XLR outputs plus a mini plug output, adjustable input level monitor level, and adds a 10-pin  and mini plug camera return. These sound mixers run from $400 for the smaller dual channel mixer to $840 for the larger 4 channel mixers. Another unique product is the Azden dual receiver/transmitter kit. Running at $750, this price is highly competitive with buying two Azden or Sennheiser kits at around $599 each.  This dual receiver allows you to mic two people and run separate channels into one receiver, rather than using two receivers and two transmitters. Michelle Brooks, Inside Sales – brooks@rule.com

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Canon Cinema with SNL’s Alex Buono

Those who braved the spontaneous monsoon and made their way to the Yawkey Theater at WGBH in Boston on Wednesday, August 1st, were treated to an inspiring, funny and informative discussion with Alex Buono, the Director of Photography for Saturday Night Live’s Film Unit. The event was sponsored by FRONTLINE, Rule Boston Camera and Canon, and guests were wined and dined and encouraged to see, touch and shoot with the new C300 camera, which has been unbelievably popular since its release earlier this year. Buono uses the C300 in addition to several other Canon cameras for his work, including the 5D Mark II, 7D and the XF305. He shared some of his experiences on set and delved into how and why Canon’s cameras allow him to accomplish things he never could before in less time than ever, plus dropped tips and tricks throughout his presentation for people looking to get into DSLR or cine-style shooting. Naturally, I can’t cover everything here, but I’ll highlight some of the most interesting tidbits.

Buono started shooting for the SNL Film Unit back in 1999, when they were still shooting on film. That was a challenge, he said, because their typical shooting schedule goes like this: the writers deliver the script on Wednesday, they prep on Thursday, shoot on Friday and edit and air the final product on Saturday. Those turnaround times were brutal with film, but with new tapeless workflows, especially with the MXF MPEG-2 format the C300 shoots, they don’t have to bog themselves down with film processing or telecine, or even the painful rendering times that other video workflows might require. Canon’s cameras made it onto Saturday Night Live’s broadcasts in 2009, when Buono used the then-new 5D Mark II to shoot the opening sequence for the show. It was a bold step and a big undertaking, but he was impressed by the unprecedented light sensitivity, the ability to shoot in tiny spaces with a much smaller crew, and of course, the picture quality and shallow depth of field that he had struggled to achieve since leaving his film cameras on the shelf years before. After the success of that shoot, they adopted DSLRs into their workflow and have now added the C300 to their arsenal, which is Buono’s favorite tool yet. I was excited to see how Buono uses these cameras in his work every week and some of the additional equipment he has been particularly fond of. He spoke highly of a number of third-party accessories, including the “Target Shooter” and “The Event,” which are two different shoulder rigs from Zacuto and Red Rock Micro, respectively. He also never leaves home without his Zacuto Z-Finder Pro. Buono also showed off some seriously useful smartphone apps he relies on for location shooting, like Sunseeker and Helios for tracking movement of the sun. Most impressively, he showed us how to do “virtual location scouting” with Google Earth. Using their 3D building models and the time of day feature, he could track the movement of the sun throughout the day, plan out all of his framing, plus get contact information for buildings he wanted access to—all within the Google Earth application. Buono spent a good portion of his presentation talking about the technical specifications of the C300, but emphasized an important point (and my favorite tip from the evening): filmmaking is not a science project. In an industry where it’s easy to get caught up in numbers, feature lists and marketing jargon, it’s important to remember that these cameras are filmmaking tools that help us achieve our visions as storytellers. And the introduction of more affordable equipment and the resulting leveling of the playing field has allowed people to focus less on how much money and effort it takes to get a good picture and more on the things that really matter—good writing and good performances. That being said, he went into a detailed discussion about how the C300 captures and records color information, how capturing two green channels on the sensor dramatically improves low-light capability and how the form factor has significantly improved their flexibility while shooting, both with shoulder/handheld setups and in Steadicam applications. He also emphasized how great it is to be able to shoot a scene with Andy Samberg in the middle of Times Square without swarms of tourists taking any notice at all. Shooting incognito is a luxury few crews with SNL’s level of exposure enjoy. I was also pleased to hear him talk about the importance of color grading with tools like Apple Color, Final Cut Pro, Tiffen DFX or Magic Bullet. He also emphasized how critical good sound is, and recommended that everybody use a decent microphone (like the Rode Stereo VideoMic Pro) and record to something other than a DSLR—be it in-camera on the C300 or with external recorder (like the Zoom H4N). Shooting at 24 frames per second instead of 30 or 60 and using a 180-degree shutter (1/50th of a second on a DSLR) was also his recommendation as the single most important (and probably easiest) step for achieving a cinematic look with your video. There was plenty more that Alex Buono had to say about his experiences shooting commercial parodies, skits and other videos for SNL, as well as his impressions of the new Canon C300, but there was simply too much great information to cover here. He’s been traveling all around the country giving these kinds of presentations, so if you’re lucky, he may be making his way to a city near you and you can hear more about what he has to say. You can also follow him on Twitter at @alexbuono or go to alexbuonoreel.com to see more of his work. Peter Brunet, Engineering Technician, brunet@rule.com

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Tripod FAQs

The Manfrotto 701HDV, MVT502AM Tripod System with Carrying Bag is an LW tripod system kit for camcorders or DSLRs up to 8.8 lb. This System combines the 701HDV Pro Fluid Head with the new MVT502AM tripod.

This system is the smallest folding length of any Manfrotto to date.

Specs:

  • closed length: 29.53 in
  • maximum height: 61.42 in
  • minimum height: 27.76 in
  • load capacity: 8.82 lbs
  • weight: 8.38 lbs

The 504HD, 546BK has an aluminum crown head with a built-in 75mm bowl. The tripod’s telescopic mid-level spreader holds the tripod together and its sturdy feet connect to the legs without any problem.

Specs:

  • Maximum Height: 65.94 in
  • Minimum Height: 17.32 in
  • Load Capacity: 19.84 lbs
  • Weight: 13.89 lbs

Sachtler-Ace: Well, what’s different about the Sachtler Ace? It’s the only tripod with its own webpage (www.sachtler-ace.com) and includes a thrilling demo reel with the tagline “You only get one shot so make it count.”  Sachtler broke the $500 price mark range with a tripod that was ergonomical as well as affordable for the student, independent filmmaker, etc.

It includes a 5+0 counterbalance, 90-75 degree tilt range, 8.8 payload range.

Specs:

  • Weights: 10 lbs.
  • Height min: 22.4”
  • Height max: 68.1”
  • Transport Length: 34.3”

Now, I’m going to list the main comments, questions, and concerns that I get all the time from customers about tripods.

  1. I need a light tripod.  I can’t carry a heavy one. Now, I am 5’2″ and weigh under 100 lbs.  I get it.  But, the fact is that while you don’t want to break yourself, if your camera needs a heavier tripod, you’ve got to figure out a way to manage it. For example, you might get a tripod bag with wheels (Kata makes a great one) or bring another person along to carry it.  Do not fail in this area to get a tripod made for a 5D when you have a heavier camera or a lighter camera loaded up with accessories.
  2. What is the tripod that folds up the smallest? Most tripods do not fold up smaller than 34” long.  That’s the norm. Now, folding up length is different than standing minimum height.  But to answer the question, as far as I know, the one that folds up the smallest for travel is the Manfrotto 701, 502MVK at 29.9” long. 
  3. What is the difference between the FSB4 and the Sachtler Ace? Two main differences. Made of different materials at different parts. Different heads.  The FSB4 Head is the FSB4, the Ace is the ACE head.  These are made of different materials.  The FSB Head is made of aluminum, whereas the ACE head is made of aluminum and the silver bar in the middle is well-machined plastic.  The arm is shorter on the ACE than the FSB4. Ace has 3 grades of drag, FSB4 has 5. This affects the “fluid” feeling.  FSB4 has leak-proof fluid damping and a 10-step counterbalance system. ACE works at -30 where FSB4 works at -40 degrees.  ACE weighs 8.7 lbs, FSB4 weighs 9.7.  Spreader on the FSB4 is sturdier than on the ACE.
  4. I want thick legs.  Can I get thick sturdier legs with my head? Rule of thumb, the thicker legs that you see on Sachtler Video 18 heads, etc. normally fit with 100mm ball heads, which are definitely more expensive than 75mm heads, ranging more in the 2K-10K and up range.  Some manufacturers like Manfrotto make the 546BK legs, which are slightly thicker, and are generally wider than Sachtler legs that go with 75mm bowl heads. But if you want the thick, heavy legs, you need to go up to 100mm bowl, because the legs must also balance with the head to really control pan/tilt correctly with your camera. 
  5. Can I get a 75mm to 100mm bowl adapter? Yes.  Manfrotto, Sachtler, and Vinten all make 75 to 100mm bowl adapters. Except the way they are worded, only Kessler really has it right in their name for it because you are in fact going down in size, from 100mm to 75mm.  You cannot make the bowl bigger, from 75mm to 100mm because a 100mm adapter does not fit in a 75mm hole.  Plus, a 100mm head on 75mm legs wouldn’t make sense because it wouldn’t be supported or balanced.  These adapters range in $32 for Manfrotto to $154 for Sachtler.
  6. Can I use a photo tripod with my camera to make my camera go sideways? If you want.  But don’t take your hand off it because it’s going down to the ground if your camera is over 6 lbs!

Michelle Brooks, Inside Sales

brooks@rule.com

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What to do with the handle on the FS100 when it turns out that its not really a “handle”?

I was shooting recently with the FS100UK with the kit 18-200 lens, a Litepanel mini plus, a Sennheiser wireless receiver, and a Shotgun microphone in a poorly lit ‘”run & gun scenario”. The stock “handle” was not up to the task of supporting all of these accessories and required quite a few black hair elastics just to keep things from bouncing around. When I got back and reviewed the condition of our FS-100 handles in rentals, I said, ‘There has to be some better way of handling this’. With locking screws stripped and parts on back order from Sony, a simple repair was not the best solution. Enter Caleb Crosby of Shot Grip with his Wood & Aluminum handles for the FS100. (http://shootingmachine.net/) I immediately took a liking to the handles, and worked quickly to outfit our rental cameras with this accessory (featured in our showroom). Why worry about the plastic breaking again when we could replace it with something that provided a better end-user experience, more functionality, and more mounting options — not to mention a pretty sweet look too! We took advantage of Shot Grip’s stub clamps to re-mount the stock microphone, and a few others stub clamps for lighting accessories and a wireless transmitter. The package was complete! Caleb came by recently and we chatted about development of a new product he unveiled at NAB. Caleb will be getting us some more handles from craftsmen in a shop just north of us in Maine. I’m so grateful for such an easy and elegant solution to this problem. Adam Van Voorhis, Equipment Manager adamvanvoorhis@rule.com

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New Firmware Upgrade for Sony HXR-NX70U

The Sony HXR-NX70U, released last June 2011 has a new firmware upgrade now available to end-users that offers:

• Selectable zoom speed for the rocker zoom

• Dual recording  (simultaneous recording) to both internal memory and SDHC card

• Additional frame rates of 1920×1080/30p and 1280×720/60p

• Expanded focus and histogram button are now assignable buttons.

• An added menu feature, “Last Scene Review” for playback on the camera.

• Face Detection Box on the video output can now be controlled by the Display On/Off button.

• The Display On/Off overlay the zebra and histogram display on the video output.

You can access the firmware upgrade here:

http://pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/micro-nxcamsite/resource.downloads.bbsccms-assets-micro-nxcam-downloads-nxcamfirmwareupgrades

This upgrade is currently offered for free on the Sony website as a download when their camera is hooked up via USB, but if the user does not wish to upgrade via download, they can send the camera into Sony for a technician fee to have the upgrade done at Sony’s service facility, which for New England is located in Teaneck, New Jersey.

If you wish to do this, you can contact the Sony Support Center at 800-833-6817 Mon-Fri, 8:00 am – 8:00 pm. ET, excluding Holidays.

These are your options for Sony Service via Sony:

Sony Service Center

Sony Electronics Inc.

123 W.Tryon Ave.

Teaneck, NJ 07666

Phone: 201-833-5300

E-mail: TeaneckService@am.sony.com

Sony Service Center

Sony Electronics Inc.
2706 Media Center Dr.

Ste.13
LosAngeles, CA 90065

Phone:323-352-5000

E-mail: LAService@am.sony.com

The Sony HXR-NX70U was announced a year ago in April 2011, and literally made a splash at last year’s NAB in Las Vegas when Sony had it sit in a shower to demonstrate it’s unique water-resistant design.  The “chiihuahua” camera is another in Sony’s Prosumer NXCAM line, all of which record onto SDHC cards with an AVCHD codec, and carry a list price range of $2K-6K, including the well-known HXR-NX5U, HXR-MC50U, and soon-to-be released palm-sized HXR-NX30U, which features a built in projector, will list for $2,500 and will be available June 2012.

Michelle Brooks, Inside Sales

brooks@rule.com

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Smart Storage for the Digital Age

For some time now, Rule Boston Camera has been working hard to become the leader in New England of shared storage, digital asset management and archiving. As the industry moves away from tape and into file-based media, safely and intelligently storing your digital video files has become increasingly important. Our goal in this “Smart Storage Initiative” is to provide the best possible solutions for each customer’s needs—from the one-man-band all the way up to the enterprise-level customer. Naturally, a significant part of this initiative is education and not just for our customers. Recently, we have been putting our vendors’ shared storage products through rigorous testing to see which products fit perfectly with which workflows. No single product, be it from Avid, Facilis, SNS or Apple/Promise, is right for every need or for every customer. We’re doing speed tests, checking compatibility with third-party software, figuring out how you can use each one in collaborative workflows (and more) in order to find how each shared storage product shines and in which areas. The end result:  when you tell us about your business and your needs, we will be able to confidently recommend a product that will be a perfect fit for you and your workflow as well as your budget. While shared storage products like Apple XSAN/Promise V-Trak, Facilis Terrablock, Avid ISIS and SNS EVO are a significant part of the puzzle, we also provide solutions for digital asset management and archiving with products like CatDV from SquareBox and the Cache-A line of products among others. Don’t need or can’t afford a large shared storage system or LTO-5 backups? We can recommend the right storage and backup solutions to fit exactly what you need and want with products from Promise, LaCie, G-Tech and more. The industry is constantly changing and as a result it can be difficult to navigate which is why we’re always on the lookout to find the best solutions out there to match your specific needs. Peter Brunet, Engineering Technician, brunet@rule.com

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Developing High-Speed with the TS3Cine

It’s not breaking news that we have been waiting for a viable model of the much-lauded TS3cine to walk in our door.  For the past 18 months, we have been working closely with the engineers at Fastec Imaging to develop an affordable, portable, DSLR-esque, high-speed camera.  The wish list for the camera has been daunting: a stand-alone camera that will go anywhere and provide 720 HD resolution up to 720 fps, internal processing and storage capability, EF and PL mounts, a large high-resolution color LCD viewfinder while being lightweight and portable, and, finally, with the no-nonsense feel of a DSLR.  The TS3 has been a challenge in the making, and we have been along for the ride (virtually on the edge of our seats) waiting for the first unit to arrive. Matt Kearney at Fastec arrives today with the camera (with fmount).  We’ll post some photos later today and updates as they develop.  In the meantime, join us for Wednesday’s, January 11th Learning Lab at 10am.  Tom Talbot will have the TS3Cine prototype and provide an overview of the camera’s capabilities. Brian Malcolm, General Manager, malcolm@rule.com

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TV Logic’s New Electronic Viewfinder

At tonight’s Pub Night, we’ll be introducing an exciting new Electronic Viewfinder made by TV Logic and distributed by Alphatron that will be available at NAB 2012.  You can see the basic specs below, and more information will be released monthly. EVF 035W-3G Electronic Viewfinder, available Spring 2012. Made by TV Logic and distributed by Alphatron. Stats: 3.5” Display 960×640 HD-SDI loop through HDMI in/out 1080P Headphone Jack Focus Assist Each month between now and then we will release updates with new product features.  TV Logic and Alphatron came up with the idea for the new EVF at last year’s NAB and have spent this year working together to develop and fine-tune it.  Rene van der Reiden of Alphatron describes the relationship between Alphatron and TV Logic as, “a good combination with many factors, so this combination hopefully will be very successful in the time to come.” We encourage you to ask us questions about this new product!  We’ll channel them to Alphatron in order to get answers and to let them know what kind of feedback we’re hearing from our customers about the product so far.  The EVF035W-3G Viewfinder will not be available through TV Logic or Alphatron online.  The product will only be available through product resellers.  The list of resellers has not been announced yet, but Rule Boston Camera is one of them, and we look forward to answering your questions and telling you more about the viewfinder.  The EVF will list for a price of $1,395 which is also Minimum Advertised Price.  As a company that has had good experiences with TV Logic products in the past, we agree with Rene’s statement that, ‘what is important is how they handle problems and how they support you.  We have been working with them for the last 4 years and have an excellent relationship not only business to business, but person to person. Here, we are very excited because we know a little more than everyone else does and it will be a brilliant product, I’m sure.  It’s [a company to customer] win-win.’ -Michelle Brooks, Inside Sales, brooks@rule.com If you have further questions, please contact either our Sales Team here at Rule Boston Camera or myself at 617-277-2200 or email us at RuleSales@rule.com.

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New Firmware Upgrade for Ki Pro Mini

The new firmware upgrade from Aja for Ki Pro Mini V.2.6.0 is now available.  This upgrade fixes an existing problem with CUSTOM CLIP TAKE by removing this menu parameter altogether. What’s also good about this upgrade is that it adds new functionality by enabling the RED Epic, RED One and certain Canon XF cameras to pass metadata directly to Ki Pro Mini via a single SDI cable. The update is designed to streamline the workflow between Ki Pro Mini and REDs or Canon’s high-resolution imagery on set and in post. Zbigniew Twarog, Chief Engineer, twarog@rule.com

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Alexa and Alexa Plus Software Updates

We’re in the process of updating and evaluating the latest software for the Alexa and Alexa Plus. The most important new features for ALEXA and ALEXA Plus: • Custom looks through ARRI Look Files • Audio playback from SxS PRO cards • Auto white balance • Anamorphic de-squeeze in EVF-1 and on MON OUT (paid license feature) • Peaking focus check in EVF-1 and MON OUT • False color exposure check for Log C images • EVF ZOOM target position • Compare stored image from SD card with live image • RETURN IN video • Operating time counter • SD card formatting in camera • EVF ZOOM and EXP buttons are now latching • SxS recording can be turned off • More silent operation at higher ambient temperatures • ‘Rec Low’ fan mode for silent operation in extremely hot environments • V-mount battery adapter update The most important new features for ALEXA Plus: • Master/Slave lens motor control • 3D lens sync • Lens Data System (LDS) info display in EVF-1 and on MON OUT • Lens Data Archive (LDA) • Electronic level in EVF and MON OUT Dave Kudrowitz, Senior Engineer kudrow@rule.com

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Back from InfoComm!

It’s nice to be back in Massachusetts following the heat of Orlando at this year’s InfoComm Show.  The show was great and provided opportunities for learning new skills from other industry professionals, exposure to the cutting edge of what technologies are available now in AV installation and continuing positive relationships with manufacturers. This year’s show focused on a few things that we at Rule Boston Camera already do well.  There was talk about the move in our industry away from providing products and towards providing services.  We go into most of our jobs assuming that all of your perspective installers can get you the same equipment that we can.  What sets us apart needs to be our attention to detail and the ongoing relationship that we have in providing not only the gear you want but the “Engineering Services” you need. The product category that seemed to have some buzz behind it this year was digital signage.  I agree with many of the presenters at the show, that in the next year to three years, who is using digital signage, and how they are using it will change dramatically.  New products at a wide range of vertical markets and price points can meet this need.  It is our goal at Rule to ride this wave since we already started surfing it!  We will take what we have learned from our clients who are already running digital signage and from those running bulletin boards on their PEG stations in order to offer a full range of products along with our engineering expertise to find the right solution for each customer’s need. Each year at this show, I learn more and more of what else is out there.  I am looking forward to implementing much of what I saw and to returning next year to learn more of what I have not even thought of yet. Ian Tosh Director of Engineering Services

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Sony FS100 Camera (NXCAM Super 35)

I got a look at the new Sony Super 35mm FS100 camera recently, and I was relatively impressed- especially when the lights were turned off and the gain was tuned slightly to reveal a fresh crisp picture, with skin tones and blacks intact. Granted, this was with a Sony E-Alpha mount and Zeiss 85mm lens with a 1.4 F-stop, but still…  It was music to my eyes.  With a price range of $5,800 list for body only, it’s not made to be the F3, but could easily serve as a B-camera.  Actually, the gain level is better than the F3. I’ll keep this short and sweet so that hopefully your questions are answered quickly: Inputs: Comp/RCA video (L, R) USB out (2) XLR, one on the back of the camera, one on the right side AVCHD, 28mbps remote LANC clean HDMI out w/ LCD setting in menu “turned on” 1080/60i/24p 720/60i Does not have: ND Filters iLINK Timecode Out 720/24p Special Features: Tripod screw inputs on both the bottom and side of the camera Ability to use the FMU128 hardrive (List $800) for 10 Hours nonstop footage LCD screen on TOP center of the camera, 180-degree turn angle Optional Viewfinder (same hardware as EX3) Expanded Focus button Auto Iris (with E-mount lens lens) Peaking Interesting — included hot shoe mounted mic holder, looks like a handle, fairly sturdy, I wouldn’t use it as a handle if I had a choice… which I do. You’ll likely see 3rd party handles start coming to market pretty soon. And finally: Adapters: Currently Available: NOVAFLEX- E-Nikon F MTF                E-Canon FD MTF                E-PL MTF                E-Nikon G (manual iris control on adapter) SONY              E-Alpha 16×9                 E- PL On their way: Birger Eng.    E-Canon EF Hotrod            E-PL These are expected around the time that the camera starts shipping June-July however nothing is set in stone (4) Sony E-mount lenses coming out this year, (3) more coming out next year The stock lens that comes with it is an F/3.5 Stop fully zoomed in. Michelle Brooks, Inside Sales Representative brooks@rule.com

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Shooting with the Arri Alexa

I had the privilege of shooting with the Arri Alexa this past weekend for an upcoming web series that I am producing with some former Rule Boston Camera interns, entitled “Welcome to the World.” We were lucky enough to get the Alexa for the weekend and we were able to see what this new camera can really do. For those of you who don’t know, the Alexa is already receiving quite the hype. Martin Scorsese is shooting his next feature with it and Roger Deakins has been recently discussing his affinity towards the camera–and they’re not alone. The Alexa achieves about 13.5 stops of latitude (in LogC), is natively rated to ISO800 and is insanely easy to use. While it does not sport the 4K resolution that the RED does, its image clarity and post workflow are just some of the advantages to using Arri’s new flagship product. This was my first large-scale digital production. I come from a Super16 background, and almost all of my larger projects have been shot on Arri 16mm film cameras. I obviously have shot digital before (Canon DSLR’s, primarily, with some experience with the RED One), but never on this scale. We went into the project thinking it would be just something to do for fun, but it became a serious production with a sizable crew and an apartment packed with extras. I’m convinced that as much as I love shooting film, we could not have accomplished what we did (15-page script in 2.5 days!) with anything but digital—and more importantly, without the Alexa. This is a bold statement, I know, but I will explain. One of Arri’s primary competitors to the Alexa, it seems, is the RED One. The RED is a cheaper option (for the body only, at least), and offers 4K resolution, not just 2K/1080p.  However, in my opinion, the complications that arise from shooting such high resolution far outweigh the benefits. In my subjective opinion, the RED certainly looks nice, but has a tendency to look “too real” or electronically sharpened. This is a side effect that I think many digital cameras suffer from, one that has long been an arguing point for the superiority of film. The Alexa, on the other hand, shoots a very clear image, but it doesn’t look overly sharp or introduce any artifacts. The Alexa paired with a set of Cooke S4 primes, like we had, yields an astounding picture, but in my opinion, doesn’t look hyper-real. There is still texture in the image and it’s not unnaturally clean. We chose not to shoot LogC (I’m no professional colorist!), which provides an even greater dynamic range and more flexibility in post. We shot Rec709 and still got amazing images straight out of the camera. The Alexa was also instrumental in our production because of its ease of use both physically and in software (ever seen the menu system on the RED??). We had several shots that required challenging camera moves, and almost everything was handheld. Sure, the camera is heavy compared to a Sony EX3 or even the new F3, but it’s lighter than a fully-built RED rig and is certainly more ergonomic. Having a large, accessible handle on top, built-in shoulder pad and rod support and an all-in-one body design made our handheld shots extremely easy. While the modular design of the RED affords it a considerable amount of flexibility, it can become dauntingly large for handheld shots, especially. We had one particularly challenging shot that started upside down, pointed into a trash can. It then spun around and up onto the DP’s shoulder, where he then walked backward to reveal the room we were in. We stripped the camera to its bare essentials—the body, lens and rods both for a handgrip and to support a Bartech remote follow focus. We had one person holding a Panasonic BT-LH900 so we could remove the viewfinder, another person spotting the DP and another wrangling power and HD-SDI so we could eliminate the onboard battery and so I could pull focus from another monitor in the adjacent room. Even if we stripped the RED down, I believe it would still have more difficult to successfully accomplish the shot with that camera. Since this was a still a relatively small shoot and I will be editing the project, I was also in charge of media management on set. It could not have been easier. The Alexa records to Apple ProRes on Sony SxS media, so loading your footage is as easy as popping the card into an external reader, or in my case, my MacBook Pro’s ExpressCard slot (NOTE: My laptop is 2 years old and NOT the unibody design, so I still have the card slot on the 15” model. The new 15” unibody design does NOT include ExpressCard, but the 17” does). Once the card was in, we could instantly watch the footage directly from the Mac OS X Finder or QuickTime. I went the easy route and made disk images of each card using the Disk Utility application that comes pre-loaded on every Mac. Just for safety/ease, I also just dragged-and-dropped the individual .mov files onto my external RAID 1 drive (ideally, we would have used something like ShotPut Pro to copy the data). As with any large digital production, I would highly recommend having a dedicated Digital Imaging Technician on set to handle media and all additional imaging needs. But in our case, since we could not get a proper DIT and because the Alexa was so easy to use, we were willing to take the risk of not having a DIT. This is not something you could reasonably do when dealing with 4K footage out of the RED. And now that we’re in post-production, I can either load those files directly into Final Cut for editing, or even use Avid Media Access to edit the ProRes footage natively in Avid Media Composer 5. Easy as pie. Now let me be clear: while I’m comparing the RED and the Alexa, they are both very different products with different markets in mind. If you need to shoot RAW and get 4K imaging, the RED will obviously be the way to go. It’s also a slightly more cost-effective solution for some situations. But if you want something that you can get beautiful images with right off the bat in a lightweight, ergonomic package with a streamlined post-production workflow, then you should absolutely consider the Arri Alexa. It’s a wonderful piece of hardware and as far as I’m concerned, my new favorite camera. Peter Brunet, Engineering Technician

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The Phantom Flex High-Speed Digital Camera

The Phantom Flex is the latest in HD high-speed image capturing from manufacturer Vision Research. I have been spending some time testing the Flex over the past two weeks and I am very impressed. With a 1000 ISO, the sensitivity this camera allows is far superior to its predecessor the Phantom HD Gold (ISO 320) which is a superb camera in its own right. This kind of sensitivity proves beneficial in high-speed image capturing. With it’s capability to capture over 2500fps at 1920×1080, or over 5000fps at 1280×720, you quickly see why Flex is the most sensitive high-speed camera on the market today.

The Phantom Flex
Another fine feature of the Flex is its internal capping shutter. This makes black balancing much easier to do during production with the press of a button on the side of the camera. Because of high operating temperatures, the sensor needs to be regularly black balanced to stabilize the signal levels. With this in mind, the camera also has an optional HQ mode. HQ mode eliminates the need to manually black balance as it does it automatically within each captured frame. Although HQ reduces the maximum frame rate capture speeds by approximately one half than standard mode, it makes for quicker shooting in the field as well as increases the signal to noise ratio in the image. An improperly black balanced camera will ruin your shot and that is not an option when you often have one short opportunity to capture it. Flex has two recording operation modes to choose from:  Loop mode or Run/Stop mode. In Loop mode the Flex uses an internal buffer that stores each take. The duration of the recorded action respectively decreases as the frame rate increases. So you may only have 2 seconds of capture time to film that exploding water balloon, or 4 seconds to film that acrobat in midair. (Check out RBC client Tom Guilmette’s recent blog and Flex footage for a creative example at http://www.tomguilmette.com/archives/1986 ) The clip in the buffer can then be trimmed and saved to the on-board CineMag, which is a 128G, 256G, or 512G flash mag mounted to the camera.
Mounting the CineMag onto the Flex
Run/Stop mode allows you to record direct to the CineMag while avoiding the short time allowed in the buffer. This may be a better choice when the action is longer or continuous. The caveat here is that the maximum frame rate is much lower. Maximum frame rate direct to CineMag is 361fps at 1920×1080. But the bonus is recording for longer periods of time. The operator can start and stop recording like a regular camera until the CineMag is full. The CineMag files are downloaded via Phantom software on a PC, either while still on the camera or on a Vision Research CineStation. The files on the CineMag are RAW files with the .cine extension. These are very large files that take a considerable amount of time to download to external hard drives to deliver to post. These files can be opened with software like Glue Tools , or Iridas. Glue Tools opens the files in a QuickTime wrapper and allows you to edit and view them in Final Cut Pro or other QT based applications for editing, grading and coloring. A different approach to saving the Phantom footage is using a video workflow method, by capturing the video playback directly from the Flex or CineStation onto a recordable device.
CineStation
Both have dual link HD-SDI outputs for high quality recording. Popular choices for this may include the CineDeck Extreme(4:2:2, 4:4:4), Convergent Design’s NanoFlash recorder(4:2:2), AJA KiPro(4:2:2)  or KiPro Mini(4:2:2) or direct to a CPU via a video card(4:2:2, 4:4:4). The Flex also has auto-scaling which allows shooting over-sampled resolution of 2560×1440(16:9) and scaling the SDI output to 1920×1080. Over-sampling gives us a better quality image (no artifacts) and greater dynamic range.
Two HD-SDI outputs can be set to dual link 4:4:4 for high-quality image capture
Rule Boston Camera’s Flex comes standard with a PL mount allowing the use of our entire inventory of 35mm motion picture camera lenses. Super 16 lenses can also be used when operating the Flex at 1280×720. RBC has 128G and 256G CineMags available for rental with the Flex. Be prepared for long download times when saving the .cine files from flash mags. Flex Max Frame Rates in LOOP mode: 2560×1440 – SQ: 1617fps , HQ: 802fps 1920×1080 – SQ: 2564fps , HQ: 1267fps Flex Max Frame Rates in R/S mode: 2560×1440 – SQ: 217fps , HQ: 217fps 1920×1080 – SQ: 361fps , HQ: 361fps CineMag Recording Time: 2560×1440 – 128G = 20 minutes@24fps 256G = 40 minutes@24fps 1920×1080-  128G = 33 minutes@24fps 256G = 67 minutes@24fps Download Time via 1G Ethernet /PC : 128G = 1.75 hours 256G = 3.5 hours The quality of the images Flex creates combined with the super slow motion truly make for stunning cinematography. Often described as “jaw dropping”. Dave Kudrowitz, Senior Engineer

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The Alexa – Out of the Box and Into It’s First Local Feature!

Our very own Alexa was the star of a film shooting locally, in New Bedford, MA, this Winter.  “Fairhaven” is a comic drama that tells the story of three childhood friends reuniting in their home town of Fairhaven, MA.  Written and Directed by Tom O’Brien who fell in love with the Massachusetts seaport town and was inspired to set the project there.  The film is being shot by DP Peter Simonite and features stars such as Mad Men’s, Rich Sommer, Six Feet Under’s, Chris Messina and Deadwood’s Sarah Paulson.
We missed our Alexa dearly and we were eager to hear what our friends at Fairhaven thought of the camera.  General Manager Brian Malcolm and myself ventured down to Westport, MA to meet the cast and crew on location at Lee’s Market for some grocery store interior shots.  On the way, Brian spotted 4 Red-Tailed Hawks and one male Cardinal.  I tried to play the bird game too but my bird-like findings turned out to be trash bags trapped in branches or bushels of leaves.  (You’ve won this round, Malcolm!)
When we arrived on the set, we were warmly welcomed by an excited cast and crew.  Everyone raved about the Alexa with its superior image quality and high sensitivity in low light.  The Alexa is rated at ISO 800 but we learned that they were able to get exposures of up to 1600 ISO.  Phrases like “This camera will change the industry forever” and ” I never want to work with another camera again” were echoing around us as the crew testified to the camera’s cinematic abilities and ease-of-use.
We really enjoyed watching the Fairhaven team in action, and we’re looking forward to the film’s release!
For more information about the Fairhaven movie visit their website at www.fairhaventhemovie.com.
For more information on the Alexa, call or email answers@rule.com.
Nick Giannino, Rental Agent
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The New Sony PMW-F3

Sony’s most anticipated camera is finally just around the corner with delivery expected mid-February.  The F3 is a dream camera for most in that it offers a large sensor like DSLR’s but with the feature sets and ergonomics of a professional HD camera.  The F3 features a Super 35mm-sized sensor and a PL mount adapter.  On the surface, the camera appears to be no more than an EX1R with a large sensor, but, under the covers, it’s actually so much more.  Its numerous features will mean more to some than others, but, it’s fair to say that Sony has a winner on its hands for both entry level shooters all the way up to seasoned professionals.  Beyond the sensor’s increased low-light capability is a huge increase in noise reduction and the forethought of keeping the flange depth (in relation to the sensor) accurate and in-tune for use with most professional motion 35mm Cine Lenses.  Great features like over crank and under crank are present (1fps-60fps), and the camera features the same amazing 3.5″ viewfinder as the EX1R.  Even with this great viewfinder, it’s advisable to use an on-board monitor since the depth of field is shallower than the EX series and focus will be much more critical.  A good monitor with focus assist is key if not pulling tape on each shot. Photo: F3 camera body with PL mount adapter. I noticed online via various forums, blogs, etc., a lot of confusion about the mount on the F3.  The F3 features a removable PL mount but the camera has its own F3 mount as well.  Many people have asked why there is a zoom rocker on a camera that comes with a PL mount.  The zoom control is specifically for the F3 mount on the body which, in the near future, will be able to control S35mm F3 mount zoom lenses which Sony has plans to bring to market in the near future.  These zooms are the 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 (manual focus and zoom), 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 (auto), and the 17-50mm f/2.8 (auto). These lenses are not due until the end of 2011 and price is TBD.  This is still very encouraging and something that cannot currently be found in the DSLR arena.  S35mm zoom lenses, even in a new F3 mount, are a solution that opens up the use of smaller crews and less external components (microforce, etc.).  Sony has the ability to make lenses like this due to their acquisition of Konica / Minolta.  Outside of the F3 mount the camera comes with a PL mount.  It’s not a dummy mount in that it has the ability to transmit Arri Lens Data and Cooke/i data to the camera body.  These data pins are located in the 12 and 3 o’clock positions inside the PL mount. This metadata is passed onto the SxS cards during recording so you have the ability in post to review lens information (think Canon EXIF data with Aperture but with motion pictures).  Sony also has an F3K bundle which features three of its own PL lenses (35mm, 50mm & 85mm) all f/2.0 with 95mm filter diameters.  I think this is a very clever choice to have a bundle with these primes because they are fast, consistent and can be purchased for a lot less than most PL mount cine glass.  Canon and Nikon users are not left out as Nikon (G and DX will all work) and Canon FD lens adapter to F3 mount are available from MTF Services.  Birger Engineering also has plans to release a Canon EF mount with full protocol control.  I think most users will be looking at Zeiss CP.2 PL lenses as an affordable solution for owning, and lens renters will be looking at Cooke S4, Arri and Zeiss PL mount lenses to take full advantage of the amazing sensor on the camera. Photo: F3 with PL mount. Notice the data pins at the 12 and 3 position in the mount. The Sony F3 uses SxS cards just like the rest of the Sony PMW series of cameras.  The camera records MPEG-2 Long GOP which is also used by the rest of the XDCAM HD cameras in Sony’s professional line.  The bit rate is selectable between the 35 Mb/s @ 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720 in HQ mode or 1440 x 1080 if using 25 Mb/s SP mode at all the standard frame rates we are accustomed to with Sony’s CineAlta line of cameras (1fps – 60fps).  This was smart on Sony’s part as it allows you to inter-cut with other Sony professional cameras in the line if needed. The camera features two SxS slots which can hold up to two 64GB SxS-1A cards for a total of 200 minutes of continuous recording time without having to offload (well beyond DSLR capabilities) A great feature of the F3, which also has some lack of clarity on the web, is its ability to output Dual Link 3G SDI 10bit 4:2:2 and RBG.  This is an optional feature available in April via a software unlock (price TBD), and it will allow you to use several different recording options like a CineDeck, HDCAM SRW5500/2, Codex, Astro HR-7502, S.Two, direct to AJA Kona 3G (ideally with CineForm DDR), etc.  You can also use a NanoFlash or a KiPro Mini if you just want to bypass the SxS or as a secondary or primary (with SxS as a backup). With 3D being popular in the past few years, Sony has wisely added a 3D system link option that will allow you to lock-up timecode, genlock and other controls with a single cable — simplifying the process.  This is really smart because it allows you to use simple side-by-side 3D rigs without the need for external devices, etc.  3D focus, zoom, iris can all be done with a Preston HU3 and 2 x MDR-2 units with 6 motors via 3D tweak in the Preston hand unit. When Sony puts out their own S35 Zoom lens with built in servos this process will be even easier as you can use a Varizoom and other simple electronic controls for FI+Z.  It’s also important in that the F3 has an 8pin remote terminal so you can use standard remote units like the RMB150 controller.  I mention this with 3D as it is possible to use one remote to control two cameras with an 8pin adapter cable. The 3D link option will be available in April and price is TBD. Overall, the Sony F3 is destined to become one of the most talked about and popular cameras of 2011.  With the Panasonic AF100 and the Sony F3, it is safe to say a shift to large sensor cameras by manufacturers is a priority.  Sony and Panasonic have been paying attention and both reacted with two quality products that directly address a number of features and requests that we have all had with DSLRs.  Ergonomics, proper audio (XLR connections with monitoring), proper waveform/vector, recording length, codecs, etc., have all been addressed affordably.  The camera comes with a PL adapter, Stereo Mic, Windscreen, IR remote, Shoulder strap (not sure why), manual, CD-ROM with drivers and digital manual and warranty.  The F3K comes with the same supplied accessories with the addition of the PL lens kit featuring a 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses. The camera does not come with batteries or a charger.  Luckily, it uses the Sony BP series of batteries so if you already have an EX1 or EX3, you’ll be all set.  These batteries and charger will be sold and rented at Rule along with the Sony PMW-F3 camera.   We’ll be hosting a Learning Lab for the F3 on Wed, Jan 19th 2011 at Rule Boston Camera. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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Arri Alexa Workshop

Just came from today’s Learning Lab on the new Arri Alexa camera and I’m practically salivating!
The presentation was done by Arri technical sales representative Guenter Noesner who wowed us with the elegant design and seemingly perfect mechanics of the much anticipated Alexa.
I was most impressed with how modular and adaptable the camera is.  Arri designed the camera to grow and adapt with time and the changing technological trends.  The Alexa currently records to Sony SXS cards but can be updated to stay current with the fastest recording media.  The robust metal shell of the camera is separated into plates that can be replaced or upgraded. You break a BNC connector on set? No worries! The BNC connectors can be switched out and repaired right on location!
The Alexa boots up in no time and has a customized ventilation system that keeps the camera quiet while recording.  If the camera starts to get loud over time the fan can be replaced easily without having to send the whole unit out for repair.  The Alexa menu system is intuitive and easy to navigate.  I toggled through the camera changing  ASA, Shutter, Frame rates – all by the touch of a button or the turn of a dial.
If you haven’t had a chance to play around with the Alexa visit the Arri website and check out the Alexa simulator, it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the camera menu – http://www.arridigital.com/technical/simulator
Can’t wait to see all the amazing footage our clients will be shooting with the new Alexa.  Don’t wait another day to get out their and get shooting!

Evelyn Seijido, Rental Agent
Up close with the Alexa

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The First Look at the Panasonic AG AF100…

Jan Crittenden-Livingston brought the working prototype of the AF100 to Rule yesterday! The first impression — it has a rather light body (2.5lbs), although it looks “stocky”. The handle can be removed and the right side grip can be removed, too, leaving a pretty simple cube. It came with a PL adaptor for Zeiss cine lens, rod attachment and Vocas mattebox. Quite a small package. The camera is easy to set and most menus will be familiar to Panasonic camera users. You have to get used to the lack of rocker switch for zoom on the grip and Start/Stop recording button being on the body.  It has a very nice camera picture, although Jan asked us not to judge it – it is a prototype. Perfect choice for P+S Technik DOF Adapter user? Possibly yes. Zbigniew Twarog, Chief Engineer

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The First Forum Shoot

In past posts, I mentioned that this room at Harvard’s School of Public Health, is interesting because of its dual purpose. Well, on Friday we broke in the production part of the room. Here is the techno-geeky breakdown of the shoot: The goal was redundancy to prevent failure. Four BRC-H700 Cameras mounted on ceiling lifts that lower them down to eye level when needed. Each fed HDSDI into an AnyCast switcher. Two more sources from an EX3 stationed in the room to provide a human operator better equipped to grab audience questions, and a PC running a PowerPoint. The PC was converted through an Extron USP 507 to HDSDI and fed not only to the Anycast but also to two 40″ LCD screens in the room for audience viewing. Audio in from four wired lav mics in the room and one wireless hand held into a Shure mixer for processing then to the Anycast to combine with the video. Also 8 Clock Audio ceiling mics through a Nexia DSP to the AnyCast for audience questions. Music in from an iPod to open the show rounded out the audio scheme. Recording was done on six different devices. Two KiPros each taking a program feed from the AnyCast. Three camera backups to HVR-1500s, so that everything could be fixed in post. There is also an audio recording done to a Marantz MP3 recorder. This file was emailed directly after the event to have a transcript made. In addition to all of this, the unit that we are using to do a live encode for the web does its own recording, a Digital Rapids StreamZ HD. There is a future technology coming to the location as well. Using VYVX, we will be able to transmit full-quality HD to any network in the world. This system has a lot of complexity stuffed into a small space, but it all works very well. I look forward to seeing many more of these events in the future. Ian Tosh, Director of Engineering Services